In an addendum to last week’s mind-blowingly offensive assertion by the Catholic League that sexual abuse in the Church is caused by “homosexuality, not pedophilia,” and that some children willingly participated in the abuse, a Belgian priest made a televised announcement on Thursday admitting that he sexually abused two of his nephews, diminutively describing the molestation as just “a little game.”
As you can imagine, this “caused an uproar in Belgium on Friday, with the prime minister, senior clergy and a prosecutor expressing shock at the way the ex-prelate made light of his offenses,” the Associated Press reports. The priest, 74-year-old Roger Vangheluwe, the former bishop of Bruges, contends that he was never naked, therefore the abuse was never about “real sexuality.” Vangheluwe declared, “I never felt the least attraction to a child” and denies being a pedophile.
Okay, sure. So why touch your nephew for 13 years, from when he was 5 to 18, then? Vangheluwe dismissed the severity of his offenses by saying, “From me toward him there was a bit of intimacy that occurred each time we saw one another. And of which we later said, ‘That’s not right.’”
The current bishop of Bruges says “All (Belgian) bishops are astounded” and Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Belgian bishops expressed “the feelings of astonishment and worry that were generated by the interview.” The Vatican has ordered Vangheluwe to “no longer work as a priest while officials determine his punishment,” but Vangheluwe said “he would never voluntarily leave the priesthood,” according to the AP.
Church law has no provision for defrocking a bishop. But Belgian theologian Rev. Gabriel Ringlet told Belgian television that this should not stop (Pope) Benedict from taking decisive action. ”The pope should say loudly and clearly, ‘I deeply regret that our law does not permit it, but morally I consider that this bishop is no longer part of our family’,” he said.
Later, they add, “It’s not clear how much control the Church has over the rogue bishop now anyway. Officials have confirmed to Belgian media that he will get his 2,800-euro state pension regardless of his standing in the Church.”
It remains unknown then if Vangheluwe has accepted the Vatican’s decree to stop working as a priest (whatever that means – he’s a priest unless he’s excommunicated, whether he’s saying mass for the public or not), but as of Friday, Vangheluwe was nestled safely in “a wooded Catholic retreat in Ferte-Imbault in central France,” where he was sent by the Vatican for “psychological examination,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
They write, “Catholic practice through the abuse scandal has often been to give its disgraced priests and bishops space and time to rest and reflect.” It’s clear there’s not a lot of reflecting going on in Vangheluwe’s mind, as “throughout the interview, he sat relaxed, sometimes smiling and at times shrugging his shoulders as if to signal that the events he spoke of were not very serious,” the AP says.
Regarding the handling of the worldwide sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, Vangheluwe proved that Catholic League president Bill Donohue’s opinions aren’t very far removed from some in the priesthood. Vangheluwe asked the interviewer, “Why is it different for priests than for other situations? Why should the church pay compensation and there is no compensation in other professions?” he asked. “The church should not be pushed in a special corner.”
Exactly. The church should not be pushed in a special corner. Which is why priests who have committed sex crimes should not be shrouded in a secluded retreat in the woods of France. (According to Reuters, Vangheluwe “left the secluded monastery near Orleans on Saturday after it complained about all the media attention his presence had caused.” He boasted to reporters that he’d “received a massive amount of offers of lodging, both from monasteries and from individuals” and that “hundreds of people have expressed their support by sending a letter or card.”) But to answer his question, perhaps the reason victims of Catholic priests are being paid by the Church is because the Church knows these victims can’t enjoy the satisfaction of seeing their attackers punished by the judicial system. Or maybe it’s hush money being offered in the hopes that those who were abused won’t write tell-all books. I don’t know.
Either way, offending priests need to come out of hiding – and if there are gay priests who have taken refuge in the Church and solace in chastity, and I’m sure there are, they need to quit the priesthood and come out of the closet. (I’m not saying gay men can’t be chaste, I’m saying choosing chastity as a way of dealing with/avoiding your sexual orientation seems like an unhealthy choice, and though it may not manifest in kid-touching, will likely be harmful in another way, at the very least to the priest making the choice, especially given that the Church teaches that homosexuality is a sin. What kind of intense self-loathing do you have to have?…)
The Catholic Church now has a policy of screening potential priests for pedophilia and other conditions via psychological evaluations, but in 2008, Father Bresciani, a psychologist and adviser to the Congregation for Catholic Education told the press, “It is obvious that a psychologist who is closed to the transcendent, who denies the significance of chastity or is closed to certain values that are proper to the Church, cannot assist in the maturing of a vocation toward the consecration of one’s life to ministry.” In other words, they only take psychiatry seriously to the extent that it affirms what the Church believes in. That means the Church is going to continue to face problems with its priests until it wakes up and joins the 21st century, allowing priests to marry and acknowledging that the vow of chastity is in one view likely to blame for much of the sexual abuse that has occurred. At this point, I believe we’ll see the second coming of Christ before we see change in the Church, and I don’t believe in the second coming of Christ.